Jobbik leader calls on government to apologize to Roma community

Gábor Vona, leader of Hungary’s Jobbik party, is calling on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government to issue a formal apology to the Roma minority. He accuses the ruling Fidesz party of deliberately eliminating any possibility for upward social mobility within the country’s largest minority group. Speaking in the town of Eger, a few days after he confirmed in a television interview a willingness to apologize to Hungarian Jews and Roma for some of his previous statements and those of his party, Mr. Vona said:

“In truth, it is not really I that should apologize to the Gypsy community, but rather those who see in them only cheap votes, those who feel they can be kept in abject poverty and those who feel they can buy them once every four years. This is racism. (…) It is in the interest of Fidesz to keep the Gypsy community in its current terrible state. Were this not their intent, then Flórián Farkas would long ago be sitting in prison.”

Gábor Vona. Photo: Alfahír.

The Jobbik leader was referring to Fidesz politician and the government’s token Romani, Flórián Farkas, who sits as a Fidesz MP and served as the chair of the National Roma Council. Mr. Farkas has a long and sordid history of corruption. In 1998, charges were brought against him for financial irregularities and misappropriation of funds in his various foundations. Mr. Farkas, however, was never tried and convicted, as he received a type of amnesty from Hungary’s then president Árpád Göncz.

In 2014, Mr. Farkas oversaw 50 billion forints in EU funds to be used to help unemployed and underemployed Romani find stable jobs, gain appropriate training and build careers. Instead of spending these funds to help his community, the group led by Mr. Farkas bought real estate for some 200 million forints, leased 10 cars and bought over 50 million forints in office furniture and computers. More than 200 million forints were spent on fake studies written by “consultants,” who simply pocketed the money. Most of the funds are widely believed to have landed in the pockets of friends and family and nothing was done whatsoever to aid unemployed Roma. Hungarian police are, reportedly, investigating.

To this day, Fidesz has yet to distance itself from Mr. Farkas or to condemn his actions and the complete failure of his program. Prosecution is unlikely as well. Mr. Farkas remains useful to Fidesz because the ruling party considers that he, and his Lungo Drom party, are still best able to mobilize the community to vote for Fidesz during elections. And Mr. Vona is correct when he notes that poverty-stricken people, of both Roma and non-Roma origins, are paid off in kind to cast ballots for the ruling party. This is an open secret in Hungary.

Mr. Vona added that Mr. Farkas belongs in prison and he placed much of the responsibility for the state of the community with Roma leaders, who he feels have not spoken up against people like Mr. Farkas or against Fidesz.

The Jobbik leader’s words were recorded by Csaba Sarkadi-Illyés of the Alfahír website, a news outlet affiliated with Jobbik.

Previously, speaking on the ATV news network, Mr. Vona emphasized his willingness to issue an apology to both Hungarian Jews and the Roma community, as part of his efforts to move Jobbik to more moderate territory. While claiming that Jobbik was never actually antisemitic or anti-Roma, he admitted rather euphemistically that “poor sentences” and “derailed processes” did exist. The problem is that even recently, thanks to Jobbik politician Dóra Duró, a proposal was put forward that would have tied voting rights to a minimum Grade 8 education. It was widely believed that this was a way to keep uneducated Romani who are used by Fidesz from casting ballots.

Mr. Vona asserted that Jobbik has members of Jewish origins, as well as other minority backgrounds, and that today they “occupy a respectable place within the party.” He then added: “No party member may suffer any disadvantage purely because he/she is Roma.” When asked whether he would be willing to field a Roma candidate on the Jobbik list in 2018 such as the mayor of Cserdi, a Roma majority village, who has worked wonders in dramatically reducing crime and unemployment, Mr. Vona said this:

“Yes, I can see this happening. I am very proud of those Gypsy people who can show exemplary results in their communities. I have read the earlier statements of the mayor of Cserdi and I feel that he has serious reservations about Jobbik. But I am open to launching dialogue with him. If we do not speak with each other, we will not find solutions.”

Mr. Vona’s transformation over the last three years is noteworthy, but it’s also worth remembering that this party does still serve as a political home for prominent far right voices, such as László Toroczkai. But in its tone and politics, Jobbik’s national leadership is now to the centre of Fidesz.

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